Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Who IS on this year's Vintners Hall of Fame ballot

As Chairman of the Vintners Hall of Fame Electoral College, I am responsible for speaking for the Hall and its selection process.

Generally I'd rather let other people write about it, and just comment: I know too much.

But rather than let apocrypha creep about this year's ballot, I think it's best that I lay out a few  facts.

First, it's true that Robert Parker and Fred Franzia are not on it. What nobody has yet reported to my knowledge is who IS on it. So let's start there.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Ratt N Roll Chardonnay: Laced with 'cougar crack'

Ratt drummer Bobby Blotzer holds Ratt N Roll
Remember Ratt? Hair metal band from the '80s, had a hit called "Round and Round?"

Well, now it's a wine.

Ratt drummer Bobby Blotzer was showing off his "Ratt N Roll" Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2010 ($20) at the Family Winemakers tasting on Sunday.

Kristian Story made the wine for Blotzer's specifications, which, for a heavy metal guy, start with a surprising dictum: "A lot of people think Chards are too heavy," Blotzer said. "I wanted this to be light."

Blotzer and I talked for a while about wine, and I talked with Story as well. But it wasn't until I talked with Antonia Quast, vice president of Kristian Story wines and Story's girlfriend, that I learned the real reason Ratt N Roll Chardonnay has 100% malolactic fermentation.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

One night a year, we should all Think Pink

Last week I attended an annual event at the ill-named Café Rouge in Berkeley. Why ill-named? Because for one night a year, the red meat-loving restaurant (it started as an artisan butcher) runs Think Pink, in which diners are strongly encouraged to order nothing but rosé.

The regular wine list is put away, and a special one-page sheet lists only 12 pink wines from France and Italy, all imported by Berkeley's own Kermit Lynch. I saw one glass of white wine going out but every other table had pure pinkness.

It's a lovely sight. It's dinner a la carte, not a wine tasting or industry event, yet the house is full and diners reserve tables well in advance.

The main takeaway is that there's a rosé for everything. We had a dozen oysters, and there's a pink wine for that. We also had a dry aged Piedmontese ribeye steak, and there's a pink wine for that.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Any wine Anywhere to Anyone over 21: A call to arms

W. R. Tish and I had a little debate on Palate Press last week about perhaps the wine blog world's favorite demon, the 100-point scale. While I know I could get pageviews and comments by rekindling that debate here, I've got a more noble purpose in mind.

It's a call to arms, and you're all not just invited, but needed.

One thing that struck me about the Palate Press debate was its civility, but maybe that's because most of us know each other, and we broadly agree about much more than not. If you're a wine blogger or a wine blog reader, almost by definition you support the following:

* Small producers

* Unheralded regions

* Idiosyncratic wines of quality and terroir

There's a tendency in these ever-popular 100-point debates to blame critics' ratings for hurting the prospects for these. Again, I'm not here today to rekindle that debate, but to point out that there's a much bigger enemy, an evil force so powerful that like Voldemort, most are afraid to speak its name.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Argentina and Chile: Close in land, far apart in wine

Here I'm looking into labor conditions at Alma Negra in Argentina
Argentina and Chile are neighbors, and share a language, but that's about all they have in common.

Earlier this year I had the privilege of spending 5 days sampling wine in each country, which of course makes me an expert. I hadn't been before, so these observations were all surprising to me.

* In wine, Argentina is New World; Chile is Old World. 

I knew that already from tasting the products in this country, so seeing it in action wasn't a surprise. The Argentinians are all about new winemaking methods, marketing as a region (i.e., everyone getting behind Malbec), extraction and power. Chileans talk about balance and elegance and old vines. So if you're an Old World fan, you might think you'd prefer Chile. So did I. Read on.

* For a similar contrast, think Spain vs. Portugal.

I love the wines from both Spain and Portugal, but they're very different in ways that remind me of Argentina and Chile. Spain is rushing to modernize, sometimes too fast, but usually with good effect. Wines that used to be mellow with the taste of old oak are now potent with the taste of big fruit. Portugal is busy unearthing its traditions and trying to find ways to explain them to the world. They may be neighbors but culturally -- music, cinema, architecture -- they have little in common. That statement applies to both Spain/Portugal and Chile/Argentina.

* Both countries suffer from a house palate.

Argentine wineries think their Malbecs taste complex when they don't. Chilean wineries think their older Cabs are drinking well when they're not. Both countries have had currency problems. Imported wines are rare, and winemakers can't travel as much, so they're not tasting their wines in comparison to others. This is really a problem for Argentine sparkling wines, which are nearly all awful. It isn't as big a deal for Argentine Malbec, which is mainly in a push for higher concentration. In Chile, some winemakers had a sense for how good or not their wines are, but I was mystified to meet some who didn't.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Farmers fight back against Tea Party on immigrant labor

I'm not gonna do this for a living. Will other Americans?
A Tea Party Texan wants to take U.S.-grown fresh fruit and vegetables off your table.

There's no other way to describe the bill proposed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tex). The bill would turn farmers into immigration enforcement agents, requiring them to check every itinerant fruit picker's ID against a federal database run by the Department of Homeland Security.

This would hit the wine industry less hard than other farmers. Higher-end wineries already use almost exclusively legal workers. Even for low-cost operations, wine grapes are a higher value-added crop than almost any other. If there's a scramble for legal fruit pickers, vineyard owners will get most of them. We might see low-end wine prices go up a dollar, but I'm not going to cry about that. It might be worth paying $6 instead of $5 for a 5-liter jug of generic California wine to rid the country of illegal immigrants -- if that were the only cost.